Srečko Kosovel began writing impressionist poems in secondary school, and then turned to futurism for a short period between 1919 and 1921.

He tackled Dadaism in a polemic way, although he did not become seriously immersed in it. This approach can only be noticed in the citational impulses in some of his poems. One should bear in mind that among Slovenians and especially the people in the Littoral Region, who were increasingly subject to oppression by Italian Fascism, language and literature occupied a special, almost consecrated status. This is why futurist, Dadaist, and surreal practices could never become a significant element of his work.

In addition, Kosovel never firmly advocated expressionism in any of his essays. He only saw it as a step towards constructivism, which would bring about new social values. Nonetheless, some of Kosovel’s best poems were written using combative expressionist poetics.

Kosovel wanted to use constructivism in order to combine mechanical technology and organic nature, which futurists, Dadaists, and zenithists tackled aggressively. However, Kosovel understood the relationship between the two differently and so there is a significant difference between the zenithist Worte im Raum and the futurist parole in libertà on the one hand, which extend into space aggressively as a technical and mechanical “antenna," and Kosovel’s “letters that grow into space" on the other. They represent an organic fusion with nature because growth is part of a natural process. Kosovel carefully kept track of the latest scientific discoveries on time and space. He began using the abbreviation kons in his poems’ titles, and the terms gibanje ‘movement,’ prostor ‘space,’ svetloba ‘light,’ čas ‘time,’ celica ‘cell,’ atomi ‘atoms,’’ and so on. He created the magazine KONS, with which he wanted to convey his understanding of the fusion between art and life.

Kosovel’s poetic forms, which he called “konses," are an original variant of European literary constructivism. The label “kons" was connected with the typical Soviet shortening of words (e.g., loks, veshch'), which was also taken over by the leading European avant-gardists (e.g., merz, mont). However, Kosovel was the only one that managed to create a label that is etymologically most closely connected with the word “constructivism" (kons) and at the same time bears an original author’s stamp. With this, the difference between the traditional understanding of composition (Kunstwerk) and modern construction was philosophically substantiated for Kosovel. In Kosovel, Tatlin’s transparency between form and content became a unity of semantics and space.

He advocated the rehabilitation of Vladimir Tatlin and his construction art, which is also testified by his manifesto “Mehanikom" (To the Mechanics) and some quotations. In addition to Tatlin, Kosovel also knew certain other constructivists such as Moholy-Nagy, Lissitzky, Ehrenburg, Chicherin, and many more.

Kosovel did not explicitly and extensively write about his various creative influences and stimulations, but his diaries and letters contain many references and hints about Russian and Berlin constructivism. Unfortunately, all of these texts remained unpublished and unknown to the public during his life, which is why they could not influence contemporary and later Slovenian literature.

Kosovel advocated the banning of the self from poetry, but he often emphasized himself as the author of the “kons," either by using the first letter of his last name, using the name Kvintilijan, or simply signing his name. He also introduced an element of impressionist lyric verse following the self-citation principle, which created a diachronic effect, into his “konses," which were supposed to have a synchronic effect, using this alienating process to subordinate them to the constructivist principle that dominates the “konses."

Kosovel’s constructivism reveals two orientations: the destructive and constructive. With the first one, the poet tried to do away with the four basic principles of European art and literature, just like futurism, Dadaism, zenithism, and cubo-futurism: the mimesis principle, the principle of the autonomy of art, the perception of a work of art as an organic whole, and individual creative inspiration. With the constructive orientation Kosovel returned to mimesis as a semantic poetic dimension and to the integral form, omitting only the principle of the autonomy of art. Thus, the world could be understood in a new way, outside the Renaissance subjectivism and its three-dimensional manipulation with the world. However, he did not connect his constructive “konses" with the political left as he had done with his social-revolutionary poetry, but still saw them within the framework of cultural and spiritual-revolutionary efforts.

Several types of texts can thus be observed in Kosovel’s late work: “complexes" as toying, constructive “konses" connected with spiritual revolution, and “integrals" referring to the Communist Revolution. His “konses" seek to fulfill the basic ideas of Space as developed by Lissitzky, Tatlin, and Moholy-Nagy. Kosovel decomposed words into components, atoms, and letters, and put them together again. He described the method of “letters growing into space" in his poem “Kalejdoskop" (Kaleidoscope). Thus, Kosovel’s “konses" are outside the processes of the carmina figurata (poems as word pictures), which erased the boundary between poetry and painting, because in Kosovel the semantic part surpasses the painting medium and iconicity by establishing spatial, spherical, and mirror aspects. In doing away with literary work as a closed organic whole, Kosovel was not inspired only by contemporary European avant-garde efforts, but also by Einstein’s theory of relativity and non-Euclidean geometry. “Konses" are also connected with the ethical constructivist awareness of the ecological consumption of material, which is possible to achieve by “loading down" the theme to a maximum (gruzifikacija), and not merely by putting material together like a collage. Elements such as triangles and rectangles cut out in the collages even represent plastic or painting elements that the “konses" lack. Kosovel’s collages do not attain the same level he reached with his “konses."

According to Kosovel, futurism dealt with “a two-dimensional object on a two-dimensional surface" and thus moved away from reality and the mimetic principle. In contrast, constructivism dealt with “a three-dimensional object on a two-dimensional surface" and thus moved back to meaningfulness, three-dimensional imitation, and traditional understanding, but on broken, spatially segmented surfaces that can display the wholeness of life. Kosovel distinguished between objects and things, and in line with the constructivist idea he believed that all types of art (architecture, poetry, music, and painting) should no longer exist independently, but should unite. Kosovel also comprehended “konses" the same way. His constructivism included an initial, non-reflected, abstract, and zenithist phase and a later, reflected phase, in which he primarily emphasized the semantic and spatial dimensions of the “konses." However, even in this phase Kosovel’s poetry did not become a shallow ideological mouthpiece because the revolutionary slogans in it are also accompanied by intimate lyric expressions, because he obviously withstood the schematic proletkult movement as early as the mid-1920s.

The Trieste Constructivist Ambient (1927) also provided a resolution and reconciliation in the dispute between the suprematists and constructivists. The white square that hung on invisible strings levitated under the ceiling and thus for the first time in history this work by Malevich stepped out of the context of a painting hanging on the wall. The dispute that originated at the INHUK between Kandinsky and Rodchenko in 1921, then continued with a dispute between Kandinsky, Moholy-Nagy, and Gropius at Bauhas, and then between Kosovel and Černigoj in Ljubljana, was now finally resolved. Willet’s thesis that there was no avant-garde south of the Vienna-Budapest line was completely defeated.

Kosovel’s short, but intense phase, in which he placed himself at the service of the revolution—like the Russian, French, Czech, German, and other adherents of the avant-garde—ended with the poet’s death. Its continuation can be seen in Avgust Černigoj’s work in Trieste and Bratko Kreft’s and Ferdo Delak’s enthusiastic attempts connected with the Labor Stage theater. There Slovenian art and theater experiments reached the European level and displayed an external leftist political orientation.

The Yugoslav Communist Party, like the Soviet one, accepted the ideology of the avant-garde, but not its artistic language as well; from very early on, this suggested a conflict between the political and art revolutionaries. For the latter, this ended tragically and without an escape. Fortunately, Kosovel died and thus did not live to see it.

Children’s poems are an important part of Kosovel’s oeuvre and are apparently a result of his activity aimed at his compatriots in the Littoral Region. He wrote them for his peoples’ most endangered class: the children that became victims of Italian Fascism in the Italianized school system, and also for the less severe Yugoslav nationalism experienced by the rest of the Slovenians in Yugoslavia.

A special layer in Kosovel’s oeuvre is his prose poems; in addition, his legacy includes many draft texts of various literary and non-literary genres. His interests also turned to prose, in which one can see a parallel with some similar shifts in the Russian avant-garde; in part, he was also inspired by Slovenian circumstances, which is testified by his work on the novel Kraševci (The People of the Karst). This reflects a switch to his social-revolutionary poetry, with which he satisfied the Slovenian political left. One should bear in mind that Kosovel’s creative and intellectual efforts often intertwined and coincided.

In order to understand Kosovel’s personality, it is also important to look at his public appearances, which are connected with his increasing political engagement and shifts towards constructivism.

More ...

Aljoša Harlamov: »Slovensko, sodobno, evropsko in večno«; Pogledi št. 12/2012 (27.6.2012)

Andraž Gombač: Bo modernizmu in teologiji sledil socialni realizem; Primorske novice (26.1.2012)

Publishing House

Založba ZRC




hardback • 14 × 20,5 cm • 556 pages


35,00 EUR (Regular)
30,00 EUR (Club)